Both Democrats and Republicans Are Trying to Politicize Ebola

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DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 12:  A man dressed in protective hazmat clothing treats the front porch of an apartment where a second person diagnosed with the Ebola virus resides on October 12, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. A female nurse working at Texas Heath Presbyterian Hospital, the same facility that treated Thomas Eric Duncan, has tested positive for the virus. (Photo by Mike Stone/Getty Images)
A man treats the Dallas home of the second person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. on October 12, 2014. Photo: Mike Stone/2014 Getty Images

A recent Pew poll found that Americans are even less interested in the midterms than usual, with only 15 percent of respondents closely following the upcoming elections. The same survey found that 36 percent of Americans are following news about the Ebola outbreak, so politicians have come up with a strategy: blame their opponents for the spread of Ebola in the United States, though both sides are at fault (or rather, neither side is to blame, as there have only been two people diagnosed in this country).

Republicans were the first to try to capitalize on Americans’ Ebola fears, with many in the GOP calling on the president to ban travelers from West Africa (though experts said this would worsen the crisis), and others worrying that Ebola patients could enter the U.S. across the southern border (though there are no Ebola cases in Mexico). Others have stoked fears about the federal government’s competency in general, such as Senator Rand Paul, who warned, “This could get beyond our control.”

Now Democrats are joining in. Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, helped set off a round of finger-pointing over budget cuts when he told the Huffington Post on Friday, “Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.”

On Monday the Agenda Project, a progressive group, took things way further with a one-minute ad titled “Republican Cuts Kill.”

Erica Payne, the group’s president, told the New York Times that the ad will run in Kentucky and hopefully other states with close Senate races, adding, “If somebody hands me $2 million, I’ll run it in every state in this country.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee unveiled a web ad that suggests Republicans contributed to the current situation by cutting funding for the CDC:

The Associated Press reports that the argument is already coming up on the campaign trail:

In Colorado, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall criticized his GOP opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner, for voting to cut $300 million from the CDC budget. “That’s not how we protect our country,” Udall said.

Gardner said the CDC had funded jazzercise classes and massage. He and [North Carolina Senate candidate Thom] Tillis are among the Republicans calling for a ban on flights from West African nations afflicted by Ebola. On Monday, Gardner’s campaign noted that Udall had also voted to cut the CDC’s budget.

It’s true that public-health agencies’ budgets have been cut in recent years, as the Times explains:

Sequestration cuts, coupled with earlier reductions, trimmed the budget of the C.D.C. by nearly a billion dollars, or 10 percent, from 2012 levels, including $13 million from emerging infectious diseases preparation and $98 million from public health preparedness and response. The National Institutes of Health have not seen real budget increases since 2003, before across-the-board cuts siphoned off $446 million.

However, it’s a stretch to say that one party was solely to blame, and it’s not clear that additional funding would have significantly affected the United States’ ability to handle an Ebola outbreak. On the flip side, we can’t definitively say that we wouldn’t have an Ebola cure if the agencies had more money, and showing people in hazmat suits does make for a more engaging political ad.

Democrats and Republicans Politicize Ebola